Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The YCL to drop Zuma
The latest in a number of calls to drop Jacob Zuma into the political wilderness comes in an editorial in the M&G by Young Communist League deputy national secretary Mazibuko Jara, in which he questions his institution's support for Zuma. In it he writes:
"According to the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Jacob Zuma (JZ) is subject to a political agenda that seeks to marginalise left and working-class forces to promote the interests of a small elite capitalist faction within the African National Congress.

However, it is questionable whether a political defence of JZ represents the best strategy through which to conduct a political and class struggle against such a project. That today JZ may quote communist texts must not stop the communist party from a proper class analysis of the class project he represents."


"The usual argument is that the political forces attacking JZ are the capitalists referred to here. Thus JZ is anti-capitalist and pro-working class. This paper does not agree with this formulation. We need a deeper and more strategic analysis of the ANC, the state, the role and interests of the capitalist class in the ANC, and the JZ project itself."


"But proletarian anger and support for JZ has not been critical of JZ’s class position and interests. It has also shown the dangers of appeals to ethnic identity, mass blindness and a cult of personality. We are not providing strategic and ideological leadership and harnessing this anger into a strategic offensive against capitalist interests, forces and policies."

and finally

"For a significant period, the communist party had begun to provide a moral reference point for workers, poor people, sections of the intelligentsia, the middle class and even some sections of capital uncertain about the future. This organisational renewal has led to increased activism, a positive public profile and the moderately successful campaigns on land, banks and access to basic services, which have not yet mounted a serious challenge to South African capitalism. These developments still have their own problems and weaknesses but overall they have been positive.

But now our conduct on the JZ saga has already reversed the potential of all these achievements. What signals are we sending to the public about our positions on corruption, the rule of law and public confidence in state institutions? What is the level of strategic confusion in our activist and mass base on all these issues?

There is also something wrong when the left in the alliance finds itself uncritically on the same side as emerging capitalist Don Mkhwanazi, corrupt businessman Schabir Shaik, and an ANC Youth League suckled on the largesse of the late Brett Kebble. What can possibly unite us with these elements? Some are also known for pushing the line that fighting corruption requires a political process: a euphemism for diffusing and deflecting a principled struggle against corruption, which is far from what a communist approach should be.

What is to be done?

Firstly, serious and objective introspection must take place on the whole JZ saga. Secondly party introspection also requires serious consideration of whether there is a case for the political defence of JZ.

Finally, the communist party has an opportunity to use its political and organisational preparations for its 12th congress in 2007 to revisit all key issues of strategy, programme and tactics including the debate on what must be done to increase the voice, power, resources and influences of poor and working people over all aspects of South African society including the contestation of elections by a working-class socialist party, hopefully the SACP."

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Great Zuma Backtrack
It's humourous (and at the same time heartening) to see Cosatu's recent distancing from Zuma. Stating that "that they have never backed Zuma as their preferred succession candidate" is a tough proposition given the dishing out of thousands of "Zuma for President" t-shirts to supporters and the type of rhetoric given at mass rallies in support of Zuma.

However, what it does illustrate is Mbeki's leadership strength and Cosatu's need to remain inside the tri-partite alliance. Mbeki and his allies have undoubtedly beaten back their foes at the recent central committee meeting to solve the internal politics within the tri-partite alliance and have brought the party back in line and on message. I've said it many times before, and I will say it again, Mbeki has shown what a political master he is in dealing with the Zuma challenge in the past year. He has successfully ridden the waves of populism served up by Zuma, Cosatu and the SACP and has managed to rein these parties back into the alliance fold.

There was much talk about Cosatu splitting from the tri-partite alliance, but that window has now closed. Cosatu have realised that the world outside of the alliance is one in which they would largely struggle to find relevance for the entire voter spectrum,and that they are much better served inside its governmental walls.

M&G struggles on message
The Mail & Guardian has had great fun reporting on the Zuma scandals, but has not always presented the most coherent view of the situation. Two M&G journalists went to the same press conference held by Cosatu, and came away with very different takes on the same content. Have a read of:

Cosatu reaffirms support for Zuma

Vavi: We never said Zuma should lead ANC

"Yesterday" gets New York Times review
The Anant Singh film "Yesterday", a poignant story with Leleti Khumalo playing a mother living with AIDS and caring for her sick husband and young daughter, has received a glowing review in this morning's New York Times.

I really enjoyed the film myself, I think it succeeded in bringing AIDS to a personal level rather than one of statistics, and highlighted the stigmas and and social impact of the AIDS virus. The reviewer states that:
"Yesterday" is proof that even the saddest stories can be told simply, with intelligence and grace and without falling into mawkish bathos. It also happens to be beautifully made.

Read the full review here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Manto blames AIDS on the Nats
There have always been those (including myself) that have blamed apartheid for some of South Africa's worst social ills, but Manto's statement that "the apartheid government was to blame for the rapid spread of Aids in South Africa" is far off base.

Manto says that the former apartheid regime is to blame for the current spread of AIDS because of their lack of healthcare implementation in their final years of power. UNAids states that national adult HIV prevalence was less than one percent in 1990 (in South Africa), but grew exponentially to almost 25 percent in 2000.

Blaming the apartheid regime here is more of Manto's 'head in the sand' mentality. The meteoric rise of AIDS (unfortunately) took place on the watch of the Mandela government, and whilst the early Nineties held the seeds of that exponential growth, the transient Government of National Unity had influence on health policy for the majority of that period. Rina Venter, the National Party who was the health minister of that time alleges that Manto was personally involved in drawing up the AIDS policy in the early Nineties.

Manto states that "It was only after the advent of democracy that tangible efforts were made by the government to curb the spread of HIV infection; provide treatment, care and support for those infected and affected; and address the stigma associated with HIV and Aids." This is untrue. Mandela has personally said that one of his biggest regrets was his government's lack of action over AIDS in that critical period of his term in the mid-Nineties.

Manto should forget the past, and start looking at what is doing now to curb the scourge of HIV-AIDS in South Africa. Excuses will not affect infection rates.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sharon's Big Gamble
Ariel Sharon has taken the boldest gamble of his political career in asking for the dissolution of the Knesset, quitting the party he founded, starting a new party and asking for snap elections. It's a move borne of intense frustration with having his hands tied by Likud, and one which is clearly driven by a leader looking for his historic legacy. Ultimately, I think it will also prove to be a very intelligent one.

Sharon says that he is taking this step to allow him to remove the shackles in the peace process and a develop peaceful existence with the Palestinians, thus implying that future withdrawals from Palestinian territories will be likely. He says that he is looking to define the "final" borders of Israel in the next term, should he be successful.

He sits in an enviable position, a hardened hawk acting like a dove, appealing to broad sections of the Israeli public. What Sharon gains in reshaping the Israeli political landscape on his own terms is the opportunity to create a centrist party that takes advantage of all the failures and weaknesses of Israel's entrenched political incumbents. And in calling for a snap election, he places the pressure firmly on opposition parties (now Likud) to reposition themselves in the eyes of the public in a very short period of time.

But what he will still have to do is form a coalition government. His party would be projected to be the largest in the Knesset, but still not large enough to force through his own agenda alone. Analysts feel he will have to look left, towards Labour, given the "betrayal" of Likud, thus creating a new party that breathes fresh air into the often stuttering status quo of Israeli politics.

Three months is not a long time, and you feel that Sharon's move is a well-timed stroke of genius by the old campaigner. Whether it will offer the same prospects for Israel as a whole is yet to be determined, but in giving Sharon more freedom, I think the prospects are good.

The Zuma Media Spats
The Sunday papers have been having a field day fighting over the most salacious headlines around the Zuma affair. Last Sunday, the Sunday Times led with Zuma's charge, whilst the Sunday Independent attacked the Sunday Times' credibility by stating that the 'accuser' denied the story altogether. It turns out, that the Sunday Independent and Sunday Times are printed on the same presses, and the Sunday Independent changed their front page story after seeing the freshly printed Sunday Times on the presses. It's a great newsman's story, and Peter Bruce of the Business Day has the scoop.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The lost cup
South African rugby came crashing down to earth last night with an early elimination from the IRB decision-making on the hosting of the 2011 RWC. On paper, we had the best bid by far; time-zones, ticket sales, ease of travel, financial returns, proven skills, infrastructure (from 2010 Soccer WC) etc. However, we were missing one thing - administrative stability.

SARU was warned by the IRB earlier this year that the only thing that would derail our bid was their incessant bickering and in-fighting. Francois Pienaar had numerous meetings with Brian van Rooyen to try to clear the air up in the SARU corridors of power, but to no avail. The chickens have come home to roost, and what would have been an immensely enriching event for South African rugby has become another debacle, with the blame to be laid squarely with Van Rooyen and his clowns at SARU.

The time for a long-term cleansing of South African rugby has come. Bring in a rugby administrator with ethics, integrity and most importantly, the interests of South African rugby at heart, not their own pockets. A person like Morne du Plessis springs to mind, although I understand the slim chance of having a white chief administrator in South Africa. Something has to be done, and it begins at the top.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The UK Most Influential Bloggers
The Guardian carries a piece this morning on the most influential bloggers on the UK political scene. For those too lazy to follow the link and read the article, the bloggers interviewed are:

Blog: Slugger O'Toole (
Politics: non-partisan Claim to fame: sets the Northern Ireland news agenda

Blog: Harry's Place (
Politics: pro-war left Claim to fame: watering-hole of the liberal hawks

Blog: Normblog (
Politics: marxist/pro-war left Claim to fame: intellectual heavyweight of the pro-war left

Blog: Samizdata (
Politics: libertarian Claim to fame: founder of arguably Britain's best-read political blog

Blog: Samizdata (
Politics: 'social individualist' Claim to fame: evangelist for a blog-based future

Blog: Bloggerheads (
Politics: anti-war/trad Labour Claim to fame: forcing the prime minister to set up a publicly accessible email address

Blog: Chicken Yoghurt (
Politics: traditional Labour/anti-war Claim to fame: the funniest critiques of the Blair era

Blog: Oliver Kamm (
Claim to fame: first UK blogger to cross over into regular newspaper commentary

The Life and Times of Thabo
News24 reports on Thabo's penmanship in the year to March 2005:

President Thabo Mbeki signed his name to 505 laws and 1168 presidential minutes in the 2004/'05 financial year.

According to the presidency's annual report tabled in parliament, Mbeki signed 585 pardons, 31 proclamations and 100 international agreements.

He had approved the appointments of 452 civil servants including ambassadors, consul generals and judges.

In addition, he signed 41 acts of parliament, authorised 436 foreign visits by ministers and deputy ministers, accepted the leave of absence of five ministers, and approved 23 documents for the appointments of acting presidents and commissions of enquiry.

A new law every 9 hours, nearly two pardons a day? Not bad going, perhaps that explains some of the quality control issues and how some of these new laws have been passed!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Zuma 'Rape'
The report in the Sunday Times yesterday pinning a rape allegation on Zuma, with no -even circumstantial- evidence, and a "witness" that denies the whole thing anyway. This does seem suspiciously like a smear and, if true, will undoubtedly prove to be an ill-advised move, as it will only embolden Zuma supporters galvanised in the face of further evidence of a political conspiracy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dangerous turn in US human rights
In a move that sets a perilous precedent, and driven through under the broad umbrella of the "War on Terror", the US Senate has approved the limiting of 'enemy combatant' detainees' right to contest their detention. In what was a simple law for traditional war-time detainees, the Americans' loose definition of 'enemy combatants' under the War on Terror has meant that suspects can be detained anywhere for anything, without any recourse. The War on Terror has changed the rules, and where a person is being arrested whilst not involved in a traditional military war (I.e. for suspicion of a criminal act) limiting his or her right to appeal detention is, in my view, a stark restriction of basic human rights.

Law has to involve a balance of reason and be held up to the light of challenge, and - as we saw in the war in Iraq - intelligence is not always perfect. This amendment is concerning.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Got connections? Earn yourself $9 Million!
The NY Times reports that lobbyist Jack Abramoff asked for $9 million in 2003 from the president of Gabon when tasked with setting up a meeting between George W and the African leader. Now that's some serious money.

President Omar Bongo of Gabon did in fact meet with Bush in the Oval Office in May 2004, but there is no evidence that Abramoff played any part. Clearly $9 million is not neccessarily a huge some to a country, depending on the scale of result possible in meeting with the US President, but it's certainly a large sum to be paid to a lobbyist. The sum came up in court documents after Abramoff was recently indicted in Florida on federal fraud charges.

The Strength of the ANC
Whilst I'm more in favour of a stronger opposition to challenge the ANC as a means to keeping non-democratic digressions in check, I really enjoyed reading Anthony Butler's article in yesterday's Business Day on the need for a strong ANC. Butler presents a very balanced view of both sides of the strength of ANC vs strength of opposition debate, before bringing his own conclusionary opinion to bear:
"The best scenario may well be 15 or 20 years of ANC dominance - creating a period of stability during which liberal institutions can entrench their authority. Government will face a real, but unrealised, threat of defeat by a credible opposition. Meanwhile, citizens will use other mechanisms of accountability to limit the abuse of executive power. When the ANC eventually begins to lose its electoral and organisational power, liberal institutions will by then be robust enough to cope with the immense internal strains generated by a more fluid political system.

A new consensus may be emerging out of the Zuma struggle. South Africans need a strong ANC more than ever. Liberal institutions and elections alone cannot address careerism, populism and ethnic factionalism. But the ANC also needs liberal democracy - a free press, effective courts and legislatures, functioning oversight bodies, and nonpartisan checks on abuse of political power."

I agree that political stability is the most important function for South Africa in the next decade, especially given the strong economic platform that has been set by the current ANC government. However, I don't believe that a stronger opposition has to be seen as a step towards political instability, quite the contrary. I believe the two are not mutually exclusive. Political opposition - not to overthrow the ANC government - but at least to represent a challenge in voting to its power base, will strengthen the stability of South Africa by ensuring that there are open debates and even battles fought over socio-economic and ideological issues. This presents a situation were government is held accountable for its actions, as opposed to running largely unchallenged, as in the current scenario.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Zuma's Media Weight
With Zuma's trial still over eight months away, the press is already in a frenzy of tree culling over his each and every move. We are undoubtedly going to be sick of hearing the man's name even before the trial such are the column inches that will be dedicated to the trial in the coming months.

This morning, his lawyers reacted to media reports by asserting that Zuma will not accept any plea bargain from the State. This is patently obvious, given any admission of guilt (which would undoubtedly be required in a plea bargain) would instantly render Zuma's political career sunk. It also gives Zuma a publicity coup, as it infers that the State may think they have a weak case. So it's no wonder that they responded so aggressively to weak suggestions by the Business Day that the Scorpions would offer a plea bargain.

Essentially however, with the media profile of this trial, if Zuma somehow escapes the cosh at the conclusion of the judgement, it will prove to be the best campaigning process he could ever have wished for.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A French Revolution?
One can't help but think that the spreading riots in France are more than just the work of gangs and anarchists, as French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is categorising them. The rioters are seeking redressment for fundamental issues that have long been bubbling under French society, and De Villepin and Chirac will be well served to do more than just stick their heads under the sand.

The numbers are indicative. In just over a week, 300 districts have erupted in violence, 4700 cars have been torched and 1200 people have been arrested. The eyes of the world are firmly on the French response, and clearly the French leadership was caught unawares by the ongoing unrest. These riots are about racism, poverty, unemployment and the marginalisation of French immigrants. These are not issues that will take care of themselves, and the French will have to take bold steps to resolve them. This could well develop into a revolutionary socialist movement, with discontent over France's (already extensive) welfare programs developing into a further shift to the left in domestic politics. This may either move France out of step with the rest of Europe, or it could further drag Europe with it to the margins of the socialist left.

As an aside, it always amazes me how these riots are usually sparked by one small event that serves as a tipping point. The current unrest began after two boys, both immigrants, were electrocuted on Oct. 27 by high-voltage equipment in an electricity substation where they took refuge fleeing a police check in a Paris suburb.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Dirty FEMA Laundry
There's nobody like the Americans to air their dirty laundry whenever possible, and with the recent Hurricane Katrina debacle, this was only a matter of time. A Louisiana congressman, Rep. Charlie Melancon, (a Democrat quite naturally) has placed a number of emails written by FEMA director Mike Brown on his website. (PDF of the emails here)

It's not flattering of Brown, discussing the fact that he "is a fashion god" whilst Katrina was wreaking devastation on New Orleans. Whilst I view the FEMA response to Katrina as pitiful and support the fact that the truth behind the response should be aired, and investigations concluded, I don't think this type of selective airing of emails is helpful. It's simply too easy for the congressman to select the most damaging mails and present a false picture of the reponses efforts.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

SA Economy Growing Jobs
According to the latest Employment Report, SA is adding over 30 000 formal jobs a month, which is in equilibrium with monthly new job entrants. The study uses UIF figures and other data that are not used by Stats SA in computing their employment figures. Mike Schussler, author of the report, stated that this may explain Â?what has happened to new car sales, why house prices are at these ridiculous levels, why three times as many people are flying through Johannesburg International Airport, why VAT collections are so much higher than expected.Â? These figures still fall short of government's targets to halve unemployment by 2014, but one must remember that the informal sector will also have been adding jobs unseen, that will also absorb new job entrants.

All in all, it's more positive news for South Africa, and for the ANC government itself. Their macro-economic policies are bearing great fruits for our economy, and one can only hope that these policies survive the ANC succession in 2007. With the spectre of Zuma's populism rearing its head, our open economy may be his first target in return for populist support.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Zim Agricultural Ministry rues unproductive farmland
With the sheer stupidity if their actions only now dawning, Zim's deputy minister for agriculture, Sylvester Nguni, yesterday stated that:
"The problem is that we gave land to people lacking the passion for farming and this is why every year production has been declining."

He said although an ongoing drought had contributed to reduced yields, "the biggest letdown has been that people without the slightest idea of farming got land and the result has been declining agricultural output."
The damage has been done, and the majority of the highly skilled farmers dispossessed of their land have been lost to Zimbabwe, setting up new ventures in surrounding SADC countries. Zimbabwe now faces a time-bomb to try to regenerate agricultural production, which is why government has been forced into these types of statements. Mugabe is now threatening to re-invade farms that are not producing, and try to find anyone with farming skills to return them to their former state of productivity.

With this type of commentary coming out of the Mugabe government, one can only hope that their belligerence is tiring and the cracks beginning to show. With the disarray of the MDC, the only thing stopping the Mugabe government is itself. We can only hope...